Validating Spiritual and Psychic Experiences

Dr. Charles T. Tart, Mindfulness, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology,

Lecture 4, Part 17 of 17 parts. To start class from beginning, click here.

CTT: It’s a very unusual environment here at ITP, going back to William’s concerns for a minute or so. We don’t have a doctrine. We’re not a religion, not a particular spiritual system with tight parameters of what you should and shouldn’t experience, and what’s good and bad and all that.

But while we’re open in a lot of directions, there is a general receptivity and respect that makes things a lot safer and more productive. Nobody’s going to tell William, “Oh – you must be psychotic if you’re having funny experiences. You better go see a psychiatrist.” They’re more likely to say, “Oh. What happened? What was it like? What can I learn from that?” Something like that. Or make suggestions for particular things. This receptivity, I think, makes an enormous difference.

In the past, to find receptivity to unusual experiences, you generally had to belong to some particular spiritual group. So you got people who respected you, but you got a very narrow container to try to fit things into. I think there are a lot of tragedy stories in traditional spiritual disciplines of people who were having deep and genuine experiences that could have been growthful, but they wouldn’t fit in a particular system that well, so they were looked upon as failures, or the work of the devil, or something like that. People suffered from them instead of growing from them.

I’ll tell you the story of the Spiritual Emergence Network. For years, since I got a little reputation as someone who was interested in unusual kinds of things, I would hear from all sorts of people. This was in the old days, so it was generally by telephone or letters. You guys remember letters? Pieces of paper?


People who had some unusual experience and were worried about it, and they had heard that I knew something about it. A few of these communications would be from people who I thought really were psychologically disturbed. They needed psychological help and, I’m not a therapist, I couldn’t give it to them. Often, they were “crazy” enough, to use a technical term (humor), that if I suggested psychological help, they’d just put me into their delusional system.

So that part was sad. But a lot of these people were ordinary people – you know, sane like us, they’re allowed to walk around the street loose without a keeper – who’d had an unusual psychic or spiritual experiences, and they simply needed someone to be receptive to that.

So I often functioned in a therapeutic way simply by being a professor who said “This is not a sign of craziness. It’s a phenomenon. Here’s a name for it. We know a little bit about it.”

And that was sufficient in an awful lot of cases. “Oh, I experienced telepathy. Oh, okay! The Professor says I’m not crazy.”

Student: So it’s validation that’s making the big differences.

CTT: Yes. They got a glimpse of a bigger container that would allow them their experiences. And a lot of times, I might have to tell them, “You know, you might be crazy. I don’t know you.”


“But on the basis of this one experience, you don’t sound crazy to me. You sound like an ordinary person who’s had a strange experience.”

Back in 1978, Stan Grof and his wife Christina, founded the Spiritual Emergency Network, which was an international network of people who were tolerant of this sort of thing. They would have liked to have a network right away of experienced psychotherapists who were quite knowledgeable about spiritual and psychic experiences and could actually work with people. They couldn’t get all that, but they got people who were friendly, who weren’t freaked by them.

And so as people would contact this network – and I referred a lot of people to them – they weren’t promised anything spectacular. They’d say, “Oh, okay. You’re in Neosho, Missouri? We have a member in the next town who’d be happy to sit down and have coffee with you and listen to your story without acting like you’re weird or crazy.”

And again, for a lot of people, that was all they needed. A bigger container, another human being who would accept them, instead of somebody who wants to send them to a psychiatrist or to a priest to get exorcised, or something like that.

I don’t know what the current status of the Spiritual Emergency Network is now. They’ve changed to Emergence instead of Emergency to give it a more positive spin, and they’ve gone in and out of business several times, and I don’t know whether they’re in business at the moment. They have trained a lot of psychotherapists who now know something about transpersonal and spiritual kinds of experiences, so they’ve helped things that way. I don’t know if they still just do their basic networking of – for example – “Here’s somebody you can have coffee with who will be friendly.” I hope they get back in business, but I think they’re out of business at the moment for lack of money.

Student: And what was that again? Spiritual Emergence –?

CTT: Spiritual Emergence Network. It was headquartered at CIIS in its last incarnation. I’m not quite sure exactly where it is now.

Student: Sounds like a much needed service.

CTT: Yes. It was very needed.

Student: Yeah. Why don’t we start it here?

Student: Yeah.

CTT: I don’t know how many people have suffered uselessly because they’ve had an unusual experience and the only way they can interpret it – and the only social interpretation they get of it – is this is pathology, or the work of the devil. We don’t need that! I mean, some people are crazy and need help with pathology, but, really….

Okay, so we’ve done our mid-quarter review (see last posting). I’m happy. You guys seem happy.

You’ve stayed very grounded tonight. I guess we’ve reached the point where I will collect papers and you will exchange papers and we’ll get to go home.

Thank you for being present. [“Present” being deliberately used to mean psychologically staying in the here-and-now, not just physically present.]

Student: Thank you.

One comment

  1. So why don’t more counselors understand even the basics of some of these odd experiences? I went to someone who had a PhD in psychiatry and tried to talk to her about my NDE. She didn’t understand what I meant at all by that term. She took it to mean that I had been in a bad accident that had traumatized me. She kept asking about all the gory details of my injuries and about how my car was sheared in half. I don’t even remember the actual accident. I was in a coma.

    I just wanted to talk about my NDE. Seeing my Grandma there, and my dog Cassie who died in the accident with me but couldn’t come back here when I did. The doctor didn’t seem to understand anything about NDEs and she kept changing the subject. She looked so uncomfortable. She just kept telling me how amazingly well I handled the whole recovery thing considering the extent of my injuries. She wouldn’t acknowledge my need to talk about my NDE at all. I didn’t go back to see her again.

    Some health professionals do better than others with the weird stuff. I had better luck talking to my family doctor about pk. But I sat down and moved a pk wheel in front of her so she had something to see herself which made it easier to talk about. I also had some preliminary reports from testing I had done at a university. Not everyone who has these experiences has that kind of thing to back up what they are saying. And my doctor still was at a loss to help me cope with some of the problems I have associated with the pk. Mostly she suggested that I take some time off and try to reduce the stress in my life. She had never heard of pk before. She said if she hadn’t know me for so long, and if I hadn’t brought along evidence and done a demonstration for her, she might of thought I was nuts.

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